Most people before they die, they leave behind a will saying who gets what- money, material possessions, property. But artists are different. While they have wills of their own, they also want to give a final message to their fans before they can’t anymore. That’s what Jean Vigo did. L’Atalante is a French film about a newly wedded couple who spend their honeymoon on the beautiful ship L’Atalante but they realize just how hard marriage can be while on this ship.
So just because this movie takes place on a ship and that the name of the ship is the name of the movie does not mean that the ship will sink! That’s coming much later in the list. We see in this film just how getting married can change a relationship and you view something in your spouse that you didn’t know about. As much as Juliette loves Jean, she also wants her freedom. She has no business being on that ship considering it’s a male-dominated area. She wants to see the lights of Paris and have fun but Jean doesn’t. It can be frustrating yet realistic to see those two viewpoints collide. That scenario really hits home with my own family. We see actor Michel Simon who plays almost the same character from Boudu Saved From Drowning in which he’s a misfit who stands out from the crowd but it’s different this time. This time, he poses as a threat to Jean in which he shows what freedom looks like in his sexual relations, his possessions that he isn’t attached to, and how he treats Juliette like an equal and not property. To Juliette, he poses as an unlikely role-model.
So why should we ship Juliette with Jean? Because of the poetic and best shot in the film of looking into the water to reveal your soulmate. Because France didn’t take Jean Vigo’s previous film Zero For Conduct very well, making a film about an anarchist his father knew wouldn’t have worked out well at that time so this film was made instead. Before David Bowie passed away, he left behind a music video foretelling his impending death and giving his fans his last piece art before the time came when he couldn’t anymore. That’s what Jean Vigo did making this film. He would be bedridden during large portions of the filmmaking but still never gave up completing it. This was his goodbye letter to his fans before he left the world after succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of 28. Thank you, Jean Vigo, for giving us your last piece of art.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find L’Atalante anywhere online except for the French version on YouTube. I know you can rent it for $3.99 on Amazon. Here’s the trailer: